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How to have harmonious relationships when you work from home?
Thread poster: NataliaAnne

NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
Feb 22, 2013

When I started out as a freelancer, I lived alone. While this had its downsides, namely lots of solitude, it was also very conducive to getting work done. My life circumstances have changed and I now live with my partner and several other relatives (it’s a long story, suffice to say that this is a given for the foreseeable future). While I have my own separate office – which is even at the very back of the house, so it’s quiet – I feel like I’m really struggling to deal with the dual function of living and working in the same place. While it helps that my office is clearly a designated work-zone, it can still be hard to draw boundaries; I feel like I’m either distracted from my work, or annoying my family. I’ll give some examples to be more specific.

To start with, during the day I inevitably go to the kitchen numerous times. Now if I’m having a slow day or just dealing with admin or similar, it doesn’t bother me if people want to chat while I’m cooking, making tea etc. However, when I’m concentrating on a difficult translation or working to a deadline, I simply do not want to talk. I know it may look like I’m on a break, but I’m usually pondering a phrase or word at the same time or, if I’m really flat-out, enjoying a few minutes of nothingness. This then seems to inevitably cause tension between me and the other family members where they tend to think I’m being rude and I feel like my workspace (mental, that is, not physical) is being intruded on.

Apart from venturing into common spaces, I also find this problem arises ‘outside business hours’. That is, when other people aren’t working but I am, it can be harder to have clear boundaries. For instance, last Sunday I was working and my sister-in-law suddenly appeared in the house and started asking me about baking trays. In the middle of trying to understand a long, convoluted sentence, I had no intention of stopping, so I gave the shortest answer humanly possible. I couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that she was annoyed that I didn’t greet her when she came in, answer her questions properly, make small talk or say good-bye when she left. From my point of view, I couldn’t believe she was interrupting me in the middle of my work day.

On a similar note, people often complain that I don’t answer the phone during the day. If I answered the phone every time it rang, I would lose at least an hour a day in the actual time taken to do this, as well as much more time in terms of stopping work, then returning to what I was doing and refocusing. If I’m really busy, this can even extend to answering the door – I just don’t do it. I have jokingly said that it would be easier to send me an email, but this is actually true. As clients only contact me via email and Skype, I religiously check throughout the day. Nothing else, to my mind, is relevant during work hours.

I’m sure this type of topic has been raised many times in the past but I think that, as an on-going part of many freelancers’ lives, it’s worth considering again. I’m really hoping for some input from others as to how they’ve tried to address the issue in their own lives and what both has and hasn’t worked. The crux of all of this is that I don’t want to either neglect my work or have strained relationships with family. To be honest, I think I have a tendency to prioritise work, thereby creating problems with family. I’d really appreciate some help!


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Johannes Mueller  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:30
Member (2005)
Dutch to German
+ ...
How about renting a small office? Feb 22, 2013

Would that be an option for you? A small office, not too big. Just a room.
Bye
Johannes


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Haluk Erkan  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 19:30
Member (2011)
German to Turkish
+ ...
Talk about Feb 22, 2013

Talk about your problems with your family. Because they are your family, they have to undertand your problems. I hope it helps. Talk about problems is allways the best way for a good solution.

[Bearbeitet am 2013-02-22 14:07 GMT]


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:30
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
An idea Feb 22, 2013

I totally understand everything you've said. My partner was out of work for a while whilst I was working from home and it was quite difficult sometimes to make him understand that even though I'm not physically typing, I'm thinking, and if my train of thought is broken, it's a struggle to pick it up again.

You're perfectly justified in not answering personal calls during working hours. I think that your friends/callers should understand that. It's not because you're at home that you're on leisure time. I wouldn't give clients my telephone number (so you know that people who phone are non-business callers) and keep skype for clients. In this way you can place the telephone somewhere else and train your relatives to say that you're not available if you're working when someone calls for you.

As to family and kitchen trips, I'm wondering whether you could develop some kind of signal/code.. perhaps a red scarf and a green scarf, red for 'please don't interrupt my train of thought' and green for 'it's OK for me to have a break and a short chat'. Perhaps that would be difficult to implement in practice but it may avoid people feeling short-changed when you sometimes want to talk and you sometimes don't.

It's hard sometimes for people to understand the amount of thinking and internal debate that goes on in a translator's head isn't it?


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NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Re: Office Feb 22, 2013

Thanks for your input Johannes. I did fleetingly consider this but I don’t think it would be practical for me. Sometimes I work at night and on the weekends and I would be concerned about practicalities; would the office block be open on Sundays? If the office wasn’t part of a commercial building, how safe would it be, both in terms of theft and personal safety? Would I have access to somewhere to store/prepare food? Additionally, it would require traveling to work as there is nowhere suitable in my suburb. I know it may sound silly, but anyone who has lived in São Paulo knows how manic the traffic is, even for seemingly small distances. Plus the standard lease time here is 30 months, so it would be a big commitment. All in all, I don’t think the hassles and costs would be worthwhile.

(BTW I swear I’m not safety-paranoid and that I only starting thinking about these things when I moved to São Paulo).


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Hiromi HORIYA
Local time: 18:30
French to Japanese
work alone & social relationship Feb 22, 2013

Real friends will continue to keep in touch with you; the others, you can forget them…

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NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Re: Communication Feb 22, 2013

Yes, it’s absolutely essential to talk about these concerns with the family (actually, my partner’s family). I think it would be useful to approach the issue by asking what would make them feel most comfortable.

I don’t have children, but my mother-in-law cares for my nephew in the afternoons, and I find it particularly challenging with him (he’s 5). He knows he can’t come into my office but I always feel like he’s hurt that I don’t want to play with him.

There are a lot of extended family members who seem to constantly appear and I mainly just stay in my office and ignore them; if they have keys, they can do as they please, if not, I ignore the door.

It’s interesting because there are a lot of cultural issues involved here as well. From an Australian perspective, one could well wonder what all these people are doing in my house anyway. lol! From a Brazilian perspective, family is everything and you need to do everything you can for them, knowing, also, that they will do the same for you. The first emphasises independence and the second, interconnection.


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nordiste  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:30
English to French
+ ...
some ideas Feb 22, 2013

I know well what you mean, although I don't live with family and in-laws in the same house.
I suppose it is specifically true for women (a woman at home during the day is an house wife, isn't she ?) or when you have children. It is also difficult when unemployed people live at home - like a retired husband.

It is a good thing that you have your own space in the house.

Maybe you could make it 100% your place of work : for instance if you install a kettle, a coffe machine or a small fridge in your office you won't need to go to the kitchen at the risk to meet family members when you just want to prepare tea or coffe or have a frsh drink.

You could also pin a planning board on the fridge in the kitchen, or on your office door, where you mark in red the times when you are busy (important deadlines or so).

Buy an answering machine for the home phone. I suppose you have your own line or mobile for business purposes.

When you have to work on Saturday, tell them the evening before how sorry you are but you cannot take part in family life before 12:00 or whatever your deadline is.

Of course you will have to explain all this to your relatives and partner in a very gentle manner... and be prepared to renew the explanation again after a few time. If you were to work in an office downtown you would not be at home to answer the phone, open the door or discuss bakery either.


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Carolyn Yohn  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:30
French to English
+ ...
From my own experience Feb 22, 2013

I have this problem, too, with my wonderful, interesting, very chatty husband. I don't have the luxury of a private office, so there is no door to close or anything like that when he works from home. If I'm typing, he generally doesn't interrupt---but if I'm outwardly "inactive" while pondering a language issue, he talks away.

I have tried two things, which help a lot: 1) very politely but bluntly stating, "I'm working right now. Let's talk later."; and 2) if he keeps talking, then I start describing the language issue I'm mulling over at length. The first approach used to take him aback, but I've been very diligent about coming back to him later to pick up the conversation he wanted to have. That way, he knows I was interested in his idea but just not at that moment (very important point!). The second approach has helped him recognize the delicacy of my work and the need for time to think about things quietly, and it gives him the opportunity to cut our conversation off (rather than me being the one to "reject" him all the time).

Making sure you have some regular, non-work time carved out to interact with your housemates should also help. Remember: they probably aren't talking to annoy you; they probably just like you and want to spend some time with you! (Not knowing them personally, though, I'll leave it to you to confirm )

Hope my experience helps you! Good luck defining your boundaries!!


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NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Marie-Helene Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I think the challenge is the fact that we’re often still thinking about our work even as we go about other tasks in the house. There must be other professions where this is the case, but all that comes to mind at the moment is writing and academia. I’ve lived with both and know they function in the same way and also need to be left alone. But I don’t think this is necessarily clear to other people. For example, if I get interrupted while doing my accounting, I couldn’t really care less; I can pick up where I left off. This is so different from being in the middle of translating, where you can completely lose your train of thought, as well as all those other little subtle ideas floating around in the back of your mind.

I only supply my phone number to clients for their records and make it very clear to them that I don’t answer it. My friends are very understanding, so no issues there. The phone issue really only comes up with family who call constantly with ‘emergencies’ like, do we need to buy milk? I can’t find my umbrella, will you look upstairs for me? Has the doctor called to confirm my appointment? etc

The signal/code idea is interesting…I wonder how it could work in practice. One area that’s clearly-defined is the lounge room – I only ever go there in my ‘free time’, so it doesn’t present any issues.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:30
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Wear a sign? Feb 22, 2013

Wear a reversible sign round your neck with "HELLO" on one side and "DON'T TALK TO ME, I'M BUSY" on the other.



Seriously though: wear a garment that unmistakeably says "I'm in the middle of working". A lab coat with lots of pens in the pocket, and your glasses hanging from your neck?

[Edited at 2013-02-22 14:47 GMT]


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Elena Volkova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 19:30
English to Russian
+ ...
Probably not helpful but Feb 22, 2013

I have to admit I was a bit puzzled to read about your situation. I have been self-employed for 7 years, raised two children in the meantime and have had a luxury of my own office in the house only for the past 3 years. If somebody needed me while I was busy telling them "sorry, I am working, later" was usually sufficient.

Of course, with babies and children it didn't work quite as easily - but I found that even if I got distracted and had to leave my desk for a while I could always switch back on and continue working.

Hope you can resolve it, NataliaAnne.

[Edited at 2013-02-22 15:10 GMT]


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NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Dominique Feb 22, 2013

Yes, I think there is an element of the housewife perception, probably because there are so many women in my suburb who do stay home in this role. So simple lack of contact with freelancers could definitely be a factor. I have a friend who’s a graphic artist and he got around this issue by building a completely separate office behind his house (which includes kitchenette, bathroom, meeting room etc). There are no interconnecting doors between the two buildings, they’re very visually distinct and he’s also disciplined in ‘going to work’, in the sense that he only ever works in the office and never in the house, and keeps everything separate. This has got to be the ideal solution for whoever has the means!

Coming back to my situation, though, I am definitely considering putting at least a kettle in my office. As for the planning board, this could really help. The worst conflicts seem to happen when something domestic is demanded of me at the same time that something urgent has to be done for work. For example, this morning a builder came to give a quote right when I was up against a deadline. I couldn’t believe it had been assumed that I would be able to deal with the builder! So, a planning board would have helped in this case because the rest of the household would have known I wouldn’t be available. I’ll definitely think about this.


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NataliaAnne  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Elena Feb 22, 2013

It’s great that you’ve managed this so successfully. I was, in fact, curious whether everyone found it as much of an issue as I do. I think some people really like their own space more than others. For example, my partner is the same. We both – talking now on a personal level, nothing to do with work – need a substantial chunk of time alone each day, without either of us, or anyone else, going near the other. I also remember that when I worked as a teacher I hated anyone interrupting my preparation or correction time, Actually, I recall that my solution was to do these things at home in peace and quiet rather than attempt it at the college where there were too many distractions!

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Elena Volkova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 19:30
English to Russian
+ ...
Adjusting Feb 22, 2013

NataliaAnne wrote:

It’s great that you’ve managed this so successfully. I was, in fact, curious whether everyone found it as much of an issue as I do. I think some people really like their own space more than others. For example, my partner is the same. We both – talking now on a personal level, nothing to do with work – need a substantial chunk of time alone each day, without either of us, or anyone else, going near the other. I also remember that when I worked as a teacher I hated anyone interrupting my preparation or correction time, Actually, I recall that my solution was to do these things at home in peace and quiet rather than attempt it at the college where there were too many distractions!



NataliaAnne

First of all, apologies for putting another poster's name in my message by mistake - I have corrected that now!

I understand completely what you are saying, in fact I too value my own space and peace and quiet - I guess over time I just learned to cope with distractions and so could continue working freelance and staying home with my family.


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